Elliott receives Principal’s Prize for Outstanding Emerging Researchers


Published: 6Jun2022

Three highly accomplished early career researchers have received a significant McGill distinction: The Principal’s Prize for Outstanding Emerging Researchers.

Since 2013, McGill has honoured 24 of its most talented and accomplished early career researchers with the prestigious Principal’s Prize for Outstanding Emerging Researchers. This year, three up-and-coming research stars – Stefanie Blain-Moraes, Kyle Elliott, and Marie-Claude Geoffroy – have joined their ranks.

“Professors Blain-Moraes, Elliott and Geoffrey have proven themselves as outstanding emerging researchers and inspiring role models for our community,” said Suzanne Fortier, Principal and Vice-Chancellor. “Already international leaders in their respective fields, I look forward to witnessing the important and innovative research they will produce in years to come.”

Kyle Elliott: Working to conserve Arctic wildlife for future generations

“The Arctic is rapidly changing and, as Canadians, we have a special responsibility to protect northern wildlife,” states Professor Kyle Elliott, Canada Research Chair, Tier 2, in Arctic Ecology, in McGill’s Department of Natural Resource Sciences, Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

“My research takes me to the most remote areas of Canada, where I have seen the impacts of reduced summer sea-ice even during my relatively short career,” says Elliott. “My research team studies where and when wildlife occurs in the Arctic and the mechanisms contributing to their movement, so as to predict future distributions. To do so, we use portable physiological assays and miniature biologging equipment. This work is essential to conserve Arctic wildlife for our children and grandchildren.”

Elliott excels in conducting innovative and critical research on wildlife in fragile northern ecosystems that are under threat from climate change. His research focuses particularly on the ecology of free-living marine birds in the Arctic.

By using some of the world’s smallest bird-borne bio-trackers to log the whereabouts and health of marine birds in response to environmental changes and stressors, Elliott demonstrates how the northern ecosystem is impacted by climate change over time. His work has been applied to real-world problems, including zoning of one of Canada’s largest marine protected areas, banning of perflorinated compounds, the national animal care guidelines for wildlife, and oil spill responses.

Elliott’s research is both challenging and risky – for example, hanging on a rope from remote 100-foot high Arctic cliffs to observe bird behaviour – yet impactful for both local and international communities. These efforts could significantly transform Canada’s fossil fuel dominated mining into a green mining industry and possibly result in Canada becoming a global leader in sustainable engineering.

Understanding the impacts of climate change on northern ecosystems

By 2100, Arctic ice will be a fraction of its current size. Understanding how physical changes impact Arctic wildlife is critical to predicting how species will respond to a shrinking habitat. How species respond will affect the entire functioning of Arctic ecosystems. Energy is the fundamental currency in ecology, and Elliott’s work on energetics provides a basis for scaling to population and ecosystem-level processes, including in the context of increased energy released by global warming.

For example, one of Elliot’s recent papers showed that puffin bills – a textbook example of sexual ornamentation – also plays an important role in heat dissipation, a result highlighted by dozens of news outlets including the BBC and Science Daily. He showed that overheating causes significant mortality in wild murres (puffin relatives with smaller bills), which was surprising for an animal living in cold climates.

Another recent paper by Elliot, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, demonstrated how fear can impact populations. Using an experimental system, his team demonstrated that fear alone can increase the probability of extinction seven-fold. As new predators arrive in the Arctic, their indirect effects may lead to species extinction even if their direct consumption rates are low.

A highly productive leader in Arctic ecology research

Elliott has already received a number of significant awards within his discipline. This includes a Tier 2 Canada Research Chair, the Robert G. Boutillier New Investigator Award from the Canadian Society of Zoologists, and the Ned K. Johnston Young Investigator Award from the American Ornithologists Union.

In addition to his productive research, Elliot is an associate editor at three journals and received a prize from Publons as one of the top 50 reviewers in biological sciences worldwide. He already has 143 publications, has given over 100 international scientific presentations, and was recently recognized by the World Economic Forum as one of the world’s top young scientists.

In response to being awarded McGill’s Principal’s Prize for Outstanding Emerging Researchers, Elliot said, “I am deeply honoured to receive such a prestigious award from a University where I have so many very talented peers. I would like to thank my family, mentors, and students, without whose support I would not be in this position today. They share in the credit for this award. This recognition motivates me to continue my research contributions to northern knowledge and society.”

Read the full article in the McGill Reporter

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